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Still waiting for wins

The Rays promise improvement, but a sloppy 4-2 loss to the Tigers leaves them worst in the majors.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001


DETROIT -- The Rays keep saying how sure they are that things are getting better. Soon, they need to start showing it.

The Rays came close again and they came up short again Friday night, losing to the Tigers 4-2.

The loss returned the Rays to the unenviable position of having the worst record in the majors at 7-16. They were 4-10 under Larry Rothschild and are 3-6 since Hal McRae took over, but the players insist things are different.

"We're competing now," catcher John Flaherty said. "We're finding a way to give ourselves a chance, late in the game or whatever the case may be. We're just falling a little short right now.

"There's definitely a lot of effort out there. Hopefully that will turn into wins here shortly."

Friday, there was some sloppy starting pitching by Ryan Rupe, who walked five in five innings, and a few messy plays, extending the Rays' major-league leading total of errors to 27, mixed with some sharp ones.

But the biggest problem on a night at Comerica Park, where the temperature dropped from 68 degrees during batting practice to 54 at game time to 45 in the late innings, was a continued inability to score. "We're just not getting enough offense to win ballgames," McRae said.

The Rays indeed had opportunities, including a promising bid in the ninth. Greg Vaughn was out on a questionable call at first to start the inning, but Fred McGriff singled and Ben Grieve walked to bring the go-ahead run to the plate against closer Todd Jones.

Pinch-hitter Steve Cox grounded to first to advance the runners, but Vinny Castilla, who earlier extended his hitting streak to five games, flied to right.

"In the ninth inning there were some guys fired up and into the game and definitely feeling like we were going to snatch this one, but it didn't happen," Flaherty said.

They had a good chance in the fourth when, down 3-1, they loaded the bases, but Jose Guillen, who made two spectacular defensive plays, grounded into a double play.

"The clutch hitting wasn't there, the opportunities were," McRae said. That problem is not new. The Rays are hitting .229 with runners in scoring position, .141 with two outs.

On the night, the Rays were held to seven hits by Detroit starter Dave Mlicki -- who is 4-0 with an 0.93 ERA against Tampa Bay, 47-61 with a 4.56 ERA against all other teams -- and a pair of relievers.

The Rays' problems started with Rupe, who had trouble throwing the ball over the plate during his five innings. Of his 106 pitches, 47 were called balls.

Rupe allowed men into scoring position in four of his five innings and had particular trouble with Jose Macias, who had a single, a double and a home run, scoring each time.

Detroit's Ryan Jackson, a Sarasota resident who spent last season in the Rays system with Triple-A Durham, did some damage too, especially with a third-inning triple.

Both McRae and Rupe, however, said there was good to be salvaged from the performance.

"He made some quality pitches, although he threw a lot of pitches. That was encouraging to me to see him throw the ball well," McRae said. "And he was able to work his way out of some situations, so I was encouraged by that."

"Making strides," Rupe said.

Guillen spoiled what could have been two big Detroit rallies with heads-up plays. In the first, he made a running, backhand catch of a line drive inches off the ground and threw to first to force out Jackson.

In the fifth, with the Tigers threatening to blow open the game after Rupe walked the bases loaded, Guillen made a huge play.

Juan Encarnacion lofted what seemed a routine sacrifice fly to right-center, but Guillen threw a bullet to second base behind Tony Clark, and shortstop Felix Martinez did an excellent job of applying the tag as Clark tried to dive back. Even better, they got the out before Bobby Higginson casually jogged home, voiding what should have been an easy Detroit run.

Guillen, though, was more concerned about his 0-for-3 night at the plate and his 1-for-17 performance with runners in scoring position.

"I need to be more consistent," Guillen said. "They're giving me a chance and I'm not taking advantage of it."

Sounds like a theme.

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